National Intelligence Service (South Korea)
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|Formed||June 13, 1961|
|Jurisdiction||Government of South Korea|
|Motto||Anonymous dedication to freedom and truth|
|Parent agency||President of South Korea|
|Website||www.nis.go.kr (in Korean)
|National Intelligence Service|
|Revised Romanization||Gukga Jeongbowon|
The National Intelligence Service (NIS) (대한민국국가정보원, 국정원) is the chief intelligence agency of South Korea. The agency was officially established in 1961 as the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) (중앙정보부), during the rule of President Park Chung-hee's military Supreme Council for National Reconstruction, which displaced the Second Republic of South Korea. The original duties of the KCIA were to supervise and coordinate both international and domestic intelligence activities and criminal investigation by all government intelligence agencies, including that of the military. The agency's broad powers allowed it to actively intervene in politics.
The agency took on the name Agency for National Security Planning (ANSP) (국가안전기획부) in 1981, as part of a series of reforms instituted by the Fifth Republic of Korea under President Chun Doo-hwan. The ANSP is colloquially known as 안기부 "Angibu" in South Korea. Besides trying to acquire intelligence on North Korea and suppress South Korean activists, the ANSP, like its predecessor, was heavily involved in activities outside its sphere, including domestic politics and even promoting the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.
In 1999, the agency assumed its current name. The advent of democracy in the Sixth Republic of South Korea has seen many of the duties and powers of the NIS curtailed, in response to public criticisms about past abuses.
Korean Central Intelligence Agency
The agency's origins can be traced back to the Korean Counterintelligence Corps (KCIC), formed during the Korean War. The KCIA was founded on June 13, 1961 by Kim Jong-pil, who drew much of the organization's initial 3,000-strong membership from the KCIC. Kim, a Korean Military Academy graduate and nephew of Park Chung-hee by marriage, is also credited for masterminding the 1961 coup d'etat that installed Park before he was elected president of Korea.
The intelligence service was extensively used by President Park's government to suppress and disrupt anti-government or pro-North Korean (in which pro-communist was included) movements, including the widespread student protests on university campuses and the activities of overseas Koreans. The KCIA developed a reputation for interfering in domestic politics and international affairs that were beyond its jurisdiction. The KCIA's original charter, Act Concerning Protection of Military Secrets, was designed to oversee the coordination of activities related to counterespionage and national security, but a majority of its activities and budget were devoted to things unrelated to its original charter.
In 1968 KCIA agents kidnapped seventeen Koreans living abroad in West Germany. They were transported back to Seoul, where they were tortured and brought up on charges of having violated the National Security Law by engaging in pro-Northern activities. The victims became a cause célèbre as the kidnapping created a firestorm of international criticism that almost brought the Bonn government to break off diplomatic relations with South Korea. On the other hand, it is almost certain that West German authorities had been involved in the kidnappings. It further served as a harbinger when the much-publicized kidnapping of a dissident, Kim Dae-jung—who would later become the president of Korea and the country's first Nobel Peace Prize recipient in 2000—took place in 1973 off the coast of a Japanese resort town.
The KCIA's virtually unlimited and completely unchecked power to arrest and detain any person on any charge, created a climate of extreme fear and repression. The frequent detention and torture of students, dissidents, opposition figures, communists, reporters, or anyone perceived to be critical of the government, was symptomatic of the Park presidency and the subsequent administration. And in another departure from its original charter, the KCIA's assumptive role as political machine extraordinaire began to take on even more bizarre forms such as exercising a free hand in drafting the South Korean constitution, dominating the country's political life, and acting as a political fundraiser for the incumbent party.
In addition to its presumptive intelligence and secret police role, which was ostensibly authorized by its original charter, it also became, by default, through a network of agents at home and abroad, the de facto attorney general and inspector general of the South Korean government.
The KCIA is known to have raised funds through extortion and stock market manipulation, which were in turn used to bribe and cajole companies, individuals, and even foreign governments, as did happen during the Koreagate scandal in the United States in 1976. Domestically, the KCIA made itself the philanthropical arm of the government by being an avid supporter of the arts, promoter of tourism, and purveyor of national culture. Investigations by United States Congressman Donald M. Fraser found the KCIA to have funneled bribes and favors through Korean businessman Tongsun Park in an attempt to gain favor and influence in Washington, D.C.; some 115 Members of Congress were implicated in what became known as the Koreagate scandal.
Agency for National Security Planning
In 1979, the agency's director, Kim Jae-kyu, assassinated President Park Chung Hee during a dinner. In the aftermath, the KCIA was purged, with Jae-Kyu and five others being executed, and temporarily lost much of its power.
The new director, Chun Doo-hwan, used his tenure from April to July 1980 to expand his power base beyond the military, and the organization was renamed the Agency for National Security Planning in 1981, with its powers redefined in presidential orders and legislation.
In March 1981, the ANSP was redesignated as the principal agency for collecting and processing all intelligence. The requirement for all other agencies with intelligence-gathering and analysis functions in their charters to coordinate their activities with the ANSP was reaffirmed.
Legislation passed at the end of 1981 further redefined the ANSP's legally mandated functions to include the collection, compilation, and distribution of foreign and domestic information regarding public safety against communists and plots to overthrow the government.
The maintenance of public safety with regard to documents, materials, facilities, and districts designated as secrets of the state was the purview of the ANSP, as was the investigation of crimes of insurrection and foreign aggression, crimes of rebellion, aiding and abetting the enemy, disclosure of military secrets, and crimes provided for in the Act Concerning Protection of Military Secrets and the National Security Act. The investigation of crimes related to duties of intelligence personnel, the supervision of information collection, and the compilation and distribution of information on other agencies' activities designed to maintain public safety also were undertaken by the ANSP.
By 1983 the ANSP had rebounded and again was the preeminent foreign and domestic intelligence organization.
Nevertheless, the ANSP's domestic powers were indeed curtailed under the Sixth Republic. Prior to the change, the ANSP had free access to all government offices and files. The ANSP, Defense Security Command, Office of the Prosecutor General, Korean National Police, and the Ministry of Justice had stationed their agents in the National Assembly of Korea to collect information on the activities of politicians.
In May 1988, however, overt ANSP agents, along with agents of other intelligence agencies, were withdrawn from the National Assembly building.
The ANSP's budget was not made public, nor apparently was it made available in any useful manner to the National Assembly in closed sessions. In July 1989, pressured by opposition parties and public opinion, the ANSP was subjected to inspection and audit by the National Assembly for the first time in eighteen years, with the ANSP removed its agents from the chambers of the Seoul Criminal Court and the Supreme Court.
In another move to limit the potential for the ANSP to engage in "intelligence politics," the ANSP Information Coordination Committee was disbanded because of its history of unduly influencing other investigating authorities, such as the Office of the Prosecutor General. Additionally, the ANSP, responding to widespread criticism of its alleged human rights violations, set up a "watchdog" office to supervise its domestic investigations and to prevent agents from abusing their powers while interrogating suspects.
The ANSP remained deeply involved in domestic politics, however, and was not fully prepared to relinquish its power. In April 1990, for example, ruling Democratic Liberal Party (DLP) coleader Kim Young-sam complained that he and members of his faction within the DLP had been subjected to "intelligence maneuvering in politics" that included wiretapping, surveillance, and financial investigations.
Despite an agreement in September 1989 by the chief policymakers of the ruling and opposition parties to strip the ANSP of its power to investigate pro-North Korean activity (a crime under the National Security Act), the ANSP continued enforcing this aspect of the law rather than limiting itself to countering internal and external attempts to overthrow the government. The ANSP continued to pick up radical student and dissident leaders for questioning without explanation.
Aside from its controversial internal security mission, the ANSP also was known for its foreign intelligence gathering and analysis and for its investigation of offenses involving external subversion and military secrets. The National Unification Board and the ANSP (and the KCIA before it) were the primary sources of government analysis and policy direction for South Korea's reunification strategy and contacts with North Korea. The intelligence service's pursuit of counterespionage cases was also held in high regard.
In 1994, the ANSP had a significant revision of its charter, which effectively limited its activities, following an agreement between Korea's ruling and opposition parties. As a result, an "Information Committee" in the National Assembly was established to lay a foundation for the agency's removal from the political scene and an assumption of political neutrality. The ANSP also began to develop procedures and mechanisms to thwart international crime and terrorism. In 1995, the ANSP moved to a new headquarters site in Naegok-dong, southern Seoul, from its previous location on Namsan mountain, in Imun-dong, where it had been located for the past 34 years.
Most specifics regarding the agency's organizational makeup remain classified by the Seoul government. A 1998 investigation by the Sisa Journal into the structure of the agency (then the ANSP) estimated that it employed some 60,000 employees across 39 headquarters and regionally-based departments, spending an estimated 700–800 billion South Korean won per year.
In the presidential election held in December 2012, NIS committed a serious crime secretly helping Park Geun-hye's campaign, according to Korean police investigation report. Korean prosecutors are re-investigating this incident which could void the result of last year's presidential election.  Former NIS chief Won Sei-hoon is awaiting trial on multiple charges including presidential election fraud.
In 2015, Hacking Team's breached data showed that NIS purchased spyware from Hacking Team. An agent related to the hack was found dead in an apparent suicide. In his note, he said that the agency didn't spy on civilians or on political reactions related to 2012's presidential election.
National Intelligence Service
In 1999, it was officially renamed the National Intelligence Service.
According to its official publications, the NIS is divided into three directorates: International affairs, Domestic affairs, and North Korean affairs. Its current officially stated mission assigns the NIS responsibility for the:
- Collection, coordination, and distribution of information on the nation's strategy and security.
- Maintenance of documents, materials, and facilities related to the nation's classified information.
- Investigation of crimes affecting national security, such as the Military Secrecy Protection Law, the National Security Law.
- Investigation of crimes related to the missions of NIS staff.
- Planning and coordination of information and classified.
The election of Roh Moo-hyun to the South Korean presidency in 2003 brought more concerted efforts to reform the agency. Roh appointed Ko Young-koo, a former human rights lawyer, to the position of director, expressing a desire to find "someone who will set the agency straight". The anti-communist bureau of the agency was slated to be eliminated, and many domestic intelligence and surveillance activities were either abandoned or transferred to national police forces.
In December 2008, it was alleged by the official media-arm of North Korea, the Korean Central News Agency, that a NIS-trained North Korean citizen had been apprehended as part of a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader. Both the NIS and South Korean government have denied any involvement.
The 2012 budget for the NIS could potentially get cut as it had shown its inefficiencies.
In 2016, a prosecutors’ investigation had turned up evidence that the NIS has been effectively orchestrating the activities of conservative groups since the administration of former president Lee Myung-bak (2008-2013). The evidence shows that the NIS has been involved not only in political advertisements that conservative groups have run in newspapers but also in their plans to hold one-person protests and to hand out pamphlets: "An agent surnamed Park who was on the NIS’s psychological warfare team supported and supervised right-wing conservative organizations and right-wing youth organizations.”
In 2017, the NIS admitted it conducted an illicit campaign to influence the South Korea’s 2012 presidential election, mobilising teams of experts in psychological warfare to ensure that the conservative candidate, Park Geun-hye, beat her liberal rival Moon Jae-in.
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- List of Directors of the National Intelligence Service (South Korea) and predecessor organizations
- Politics of South Korea
- List of historical secret police organizations
- Manipulation of public opinion by National Intelligence Service during 2012 South Korean presidential election
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- Cumings, Bruce (2005). Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History (Updated ed.). New York: W.W. Norton. p. 346. ISBN 978-0393327021.
- Lee, Namhee (2009). The Making of Minjung: Democracy and the Politics of Representation in South Korea (1. print. Cornell paperbacks. ed.). Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. p. 96. ISBN 978-0801475733.
- JPRI Working Paper No. 20
- SISA Journal opens up ANSP for all to see
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- Cleaning House - TIME
- "South Korea 'plotted to kill Kim'". BBC News. December 19, 2008. Retrieved May 19, 2010.
- Noh, Hyung-woong (2011-09-16). "NIS admits to packet tapping Gmail". The Hankyoreh. Retrieved 2011-10-01.
- Kim (김), Beom-hyeon (범현) (2011-12-30). 예산안처리에 `농협지원ㆍ국정원 예산' 복병 (in Korean). Yonhap News. Retrieved 2011-12-31.
- This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies website http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/. – South Korea
- John Larkin, "Cleaning House: South Korea's shady spy agency is being overhauled, but will it still be able to catch North Korean spooks?" – Time Asia, June 9, 2003.
- JPRI Working Paper No. 20 – Korean Scandal, or American Scandal?, Japan Policy Research Institute
- Official NIS site (Korean)
- Official NIS site (English)[permanent dead link]
- NIS Documents, some translated NIS publications (mostly on North Korean military and economic capabilities, circa 1999)
- South Korea's "Spy" Agency – ANSP ("KCIA"), collection of articles (mostly critical) on the agency's activities